The world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, and I can’t say that I can blame it. He’s kind of a cool Pope. He doesn’t want the Church to focus too much on condemning abortion and gay marriage. He wants to talk about the poor and the oppressed. He believes in climate change. He sounds downright progressive.

But once in a while I hear something from him that reminds me why I have a problem with–not him, so much, but the Church that he represents. Such as when he says, in support of large families:

“Every family is a cell of society…but large families are richer and more vital cells.”

Are they? This is why I–and a lot of other people living in our times–feel such a disconnect with the traditional Catholic Church. When it comes to human lives, the Church still values quantity over quality. Does more automatically equal richer and more vital? What about a family which has fewer kids but puts more time and care into raising them? A family which gives them more–and I don’t mean strictly in the material sense, but also in the emotional and intellectual sense? I suspect the Pope sees large families as a bulwark against modern materialism and selfishness. And yet I’ve known childless people who lead very unselfish lives. On the other hand, I remember the abusive town drunk from my childhood days, with his miserable wife and his seven kids, most of them illiterate. That was a rich and vital cell of society? Give me a break.

For so many of us, the rules of “procreate!” and “more!” no longer satisfy. For the same reasons, we are less interested in following the rules of traditional marriage and more interested in the meaning of our relationship with our partner. The content matters more than the framework.

But hey, Francis is still quite the charming guy. And I love the way he confuses and irritates the laissez-faire capitalist Christian conservatives here in America. I will always give him brownie points for that.

Advertisements

Ah, the scent of children’s tears and crushed dreams is in the air–must be time to go back to school.

I remember how much I dreaded this time of year when I was little. I knew I could look forward to spending my days getting mocked by my old Communist teacher, who hated my family for not being Communist, and attacked by my Catholic schoolmates, who hated my family for not being Catholic. After long, blissful months of drawing, reading and flying off on imaginary adventures, I had to slouch back into the building where everything I was and liked would get stomped on as “weird” and “stupid”.

Later on, my school experiences in places other than my mind-stifling Polish hometown were much better, so much so that I would look forward to September. Positive teachers and welcoming classrooms made all the difference. So this year, I’m wishing all the kids going back to school a place which expands their imagination and desire for knowledge rather than squashing it. A place which is considerate of students with different religious and political beliefs. And may the butterflies they feel be ones of excitement, not of anxiety and fear. School should not be a scary destination.

When I was little, I mimicked a saying I overheard from my Dad about a tiger biting off somebody’s balls.  The tiger-and-balls sentence happens to rhyme in Polish, which made it hilarious to both my Dad and me (we were at about the same maturity level).  When I repeated it to my Grandpa, I expected hysterical laughter.  Instead, he was aghast, and proceeded to express his strong views about the dangers of hippie childrearing.

Maybe I’m just getting too old for this, or maybe things have really gotten worse, because I’ve been aghast myself at some recent examples of foul language being directed at kids.  First, there was the video of a swearing toddler in Omaha, Nebraska.  In the video, a child still in diapers is both getting cursed at and encouraged to repeat cursewords and obscene phrases by the “adults” in his life.  Then, Madonna got in hot water for using the n-word to refer to her son on Instagram (she claims this was a “term of endearment”).

Now, we’re definitely in apples and oranges territory here.  Madonna’s use of the n-word obviously carries different racial connotations than the same word being used by the black family in the Nebraska video.  On the other hand, the toddler in the video is younger and more vulnerable than Madonna’s teenage son.  But I still come away from both situations with one thought–can we try to restrain our use of swearing and coarse language (not to mention racial slurs!) around our kids?  Regardless of whether we’re a regular working family or a wealthy celebrity, let’s try to set a good example for our children, and raise them to be polite and classy people.

God help me–I’ve turned into my grandfather, and I’m okay with that.

So now we have this dork to deal with in my local area.  A man (his name remains unknown, as he refuses to identify himself to the cops) who has decided to stand up for his Second Amendment rights by parading with his gun in front of elementary schools and middle schools.  Naturally, this causes people to call 911, parents are panicked, schools go into lockdown mode.

Fine, I get that you’re trying to make your point–you have the right to keep your guns and you don’t want anyone to take them away from you.  But this guy has to know that, especially after the horrific Newtown shooting, this kind of act is going to rile up emotion and fear, and I can’t help but think he must be getting some asshole satisfaction out of that.  Well, isn’t he oh so powerful.  A lot of the wanna-be militia types all seem the same–bunch of potbellied middle-aged warriors with an ego problem.

I wonder if there is anything that can be done to stop him, but there probably is no solution.  It’s legal for him to be on the sidewalk just outside the school.  You don’t really want to get into an argument with him, because he’s armed.  So I suppose for the time being he can continue proving to everyone that he’s got the biggest penis in the neighborhood.  Which I strongly suspect is not the case.

I’ve been hearing so much fearmongering about Common Core lately that I just had to go and check it out for myself.  Common Core is a set of new educational standards which has been adopted by most of the country at this time, and it has already been compared to the Hitler Youth and described as Marxist indoctrination.  As always, rumors of the Apocalypse are much exaggerated.

When I went to the Common Core page, I saw scary objectives for kids such as this one:  “Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.”  I looked in various sections, such as History and Science, to see if I could find any propaganda about climate change or sneaky suggestions to share your financial profits with the less fortunate.  But I found nothing except requirements for mastering specific technical and analytical skills in each grade.  For those of you who are petitioning against Common Core, if I have missed something, please let me know.

Perhaps this is the problem:  “Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.”  Many of the commentators who bash Common Core are not just religious, but of the fundamentalist religious bent, and I’ve found that fundamentalists dislike the idea of children being taught to dissect and challenge what they read–after all, one day they might challenge what they read in the Bible, and then what?

If people are this scared of something as simple as Common Core, I can’t imagine how they would have felt about my Dutch education, which included very open sex ed and a class on world religions, in which kids from different religious traditions were encouraged to describe their faith to their fellow students.  I think I’ve turned out just fine–and I can tell the fundies that I didn’t end up sexually promiscuous or an atheist–but they probably think I’m messed up anyway, so I won’t waste my time.

I love complaining about whatever the media obsession of the moment happens to be, but I love it even more when I can dig up something meaningful hidden behind all the hype.  A couple days ago, my PMS-inspired bitchfest focused on Royal Baby Madness. 

The Madness continues, as the news outlets now breathlessly report on the baby’s first meetings with each of his relatives–I’m sure they had a lot to say to each other–including Prince Harry.  Ironically, the articles about Harry mention something genuinely interesting.  And it’s not “How crazy of an uncle will Harry be?”  No, it’s Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale, which currently has an exhibition of photos on display in London showcasing its work.

Sentebale is devoted to helping the most poor and vulnerable children in Lesotho, many of them either living with HIV/AIDS, or orphaned by it.  Lesotho has the third highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world.  The charity works on providing the children with health care, educational and emotional support.  Now here are some kids which did not have news cameras waiting outside the door when they were born, and they will not be celebrated by the talking heads as they struggle to continue their lives.  Yet they are just as beautiful and royal as any child.  Sentebale means “forget me not” in the Lesotho language, so let’s not forget about the other babies.

Image